Thursday, October 2, 2008


As I walked down 53rd Street on a crisp fall afternoon, I suddenly caught a whiff of turpentine on the breeze. The sharp piney scent transported me back in time to my freshman year at a small southern Oregon college, where I was taking an oil painting class for the first time. Never having used oils before, I felt a sophistication that belied my inexpertise. The new experience was heady--both enormously satisfying and frustrating--and I can remember with precision the small building used for painting classes, with its enormous windows that let in the desert sun unfiltered. Lockers were provided for students supplies, and the floor, easels, and walls were covered in splatters of paint, the result of years of artistic freedom. My teacher set up a huge pile of broken furniture in the middle of the room and we students formed our easels around it and painted abstract depictions of the tangled forms. I had a boyfriend then who would come to my class just to sit beside me and watch me paint. Not at all artistically inclined, he was as equally baffled by the colors I chose to use as he was with my lack of interest in him. Out of the corner of my eye, I was paying attention to a guy with long hair who reminded me of a young Neil Diamond. In that class I learned how to make a proper oil paint medium--that mixture of turpentine, stand oil, and other exotic ingredients that aid in smoothing the texture of the paint upon the canvas. Just as our childhood shapes our adult years, this was my painting childhood, which formed the artist I would later become. As our childhoods are mixed with awkwardness, disappointments, freedom and undiluted joy, so my painting career began. Now, no matter how many times I get out my paints and brushes, whenever I smell the turpentine I am taken back to that class, heart full of nostalgia.

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